It was the Friday afternoon gathering of a task force I was facilitating. We were in the fact-finding stage, brainstorming to narrow down some of the possible purposes that this ministry being created would serve, when one in the group spoke up about her fears of going forward and everything falling through due to lack of commitment. She was serious. This was a challenging undertaking. At this early stage it was built on a dream that felt like spider webs and gossamer wings. I shared a personal philosophy I will call “The Process” that I have come to trust when all you have is a burning desire that you were called to a work that had not been defined yet, let alone have shape and direction. Many times all I would know is what the work was not, more so than what it was. I described how I had learned to not force it or become discouraged but to let it gradually come together one piece at a time. We, so many times think we must have the whole picture before we begin but that is not how God works. The work we do for God is as much about our growth and change then the end product itself. As the work unfolds, God is also having to work with the hearts of others who are called and then they must choose to respond to the leadings of his Holy Spirit. This takes time. When he has our attention, he then creates the perfect opportunities for people to find each other and come together with their piece of the great mosaic this work will eventually become – all in his time, not ours.
Because it is his work and the participants have faith in The Process, then gradually it happens. It may take months or even years but, again, remember it is the pilgrimage that is most rewarding and the pilgrim who is growing in faith walking it.
In “The One-Effect” chapter in Volume III, I describe my initial learning of how God works when you are called to do something you cannot imagine you have any business doing. It took God years to help me build confidence around faith. Our lack of confidence in ourselves can waylay a project so that someone else has to step up to do it if it happens at all.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I had an opportunity in the ‘80’s to provide services and food to Nebraska farm families in crisis. I was part of one of those families in need. What started out to help my own family turned in to the work I do today. I could not begin to see the path on which that decision would place me.
So often we see ourselves as lacking the credibility or authority to take on something we know in our heart God is calling us to do. Just remember, God gives us the authority we need. It’s his work.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3
This is such a powerful insight. It is easy to respond when we can see all the tools we will need to accomplish our project. God calls us to do things that seemingly must come out of thin air. That’s how he works and we are his creation who partner with him to bring it about.
God speaks to us through the Scriptures. There is a beautiful reference in Hebrews 11 that is lengthy but appropriate for learning about The Process. I have included a small part of it. I hope you will read the rest.
Hebrews 11:1-13 (NIV)
Faith in Action
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
According to this reference, you may only see the success of your efforts in the distance but never stand on the podium and receive the medal. This is faith with confidence in action.
When I write, I think of all the people who might be reading Sweetwater Journey and are seeing a problem in their community to which God is privately calling them to respond. I know this is true because it happened to me. I wasn’t fully aware until I was personally faced with the problem. What started out as an effort to protect my pride turned into a life of service. That’s okay; God can still use us regardless of our initial, even selfish motives.
“I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born;
But I protested, ‘Oh no, Lord, GOD! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth'” (Jer. 1:5-6).
The prophet Jeremiah was full of excuses like so many before and after him as to why he couldn’t do what God wanted. At the core of faith, is trusting God with our lives because he has a better and bigger plan.
From an experience in the past, I learned “The Process” very well as I had to count on God for everything. Recently, I had an experience that reminded me of that time. I was sitting outside MFA waiting for John to come out and I noticed a few sparrows hopping around enjoying the bounty of the sprinkling of grain they had found on the cement loading dock. I thought of Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
In the ‘80’s, I created a food pantry for farmers. I was a single parent by then and had to work several jobs to make a living. As I began working on collecting food for the monthly distribution to 40-100 families per month, I discovered that I didn’t have to worry about where the food was going to come from. It was always there.
I was reading the entries in my activity sheets from that time and found an ongoing record of food or money for food being donated. The entries read in part: received 400 pounds of canned goods from local Boy Scouts; nearly 1700 cans were donated from a pantry; 300 oranges and 400 pounds of fresh chicken; 8000 lbs of food purchased from the Omaha Food Bank at ten cents a pound; and holiday turkeys from Farm Aid for 100 families. Food donations came from as far away as New York and Washington, D.C. as Heartland Food Pantry for farmers who raise our food was making the newspapers and magazines across the country and across the ocean to England.
So, that day, I had great confidence in assuring the task force that God’s outcome was going to be something we couldn’t begin to imagine. But to prepare us for that outcome, we have to go through growth steps of learning, sometimes through mistakes we will make. But God will enlighten our understanding little by little, grace upon grace, as we allow him into our lives. I wanted them to know that spider webs and gossamer wings were enough if God was involved.
1 Peter 1:7-10 (NIV)
7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The following reference in Hebrews 11 is about the nameless Christians who made choices to follow Christ and live His message regardless of the price:
35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
I Peter 5:7-10
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers (and sisters) throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
We teach our children about all the exciting elements of David and Daniel in their church school class but unless they see those strengths in us, they are hollow and our children quickly grow out of embracing the lesson for their own lives. The Davids and Daniels today are still fighting giants and lions that are waiting to devour them. In our communities, or even our church community, if we challenge the status quo we may feel like we are on the battlefield or in the lion’s den. The definition for “status quo” is: the current situation, the way things are. The status quo or the way things are may serve a certain political or social agenda in your community but be out of touch with the needs of a community where everyone is empowered to grow and participate. You may be seeing this in your community and be needed as a key player to bring about change.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I Corinthians 16:13 counsels us to “Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong.”
I Peter 1:21 “Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And because God raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God.”
Imagine our communities where programs are being implemented through faith in “The Process”.